Leistikow's 5 thoughts: Iowa football's ball-hawking defense delivers a statement win at Iowa State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

AMES, Ia. — Back in 2019, Iowa’s approach to grinding out a one-point win over six hours in Ames was three-fold. 

Win the battle of special teams.

Win the battle of turnovers.

And minimize stupid mistakes.

That worked then, and it worked again Saturday. It’s a formula that continues to be a recipe for success for the Hawkeyes against their in-state rival.

No. 12 Iowa gained less than 200 yards of offense yet controlled No. 10 Iowa State, 27-17, to take the juice out of a revved-up, sellout crowd of 61,500 at Jack Trice Stadium.

The special teams: Iowa punter Tory Taylor had a 69-yard punt that changed the game in a tight third quarter. Caleb Shudak launched a 51-yard field goal on the grass where his Iowa State-grad father once kicked. Charlie Jones was not only a game-changer at receiver and earned Kirk Herbstreit's adoration on the ABC broadcast, he was dynamic as a punt returner.

The turnovers: Iowa was plus-four Saturday and continued a remarkable trend. The Hawkeyes went turnover-free and haven’t made a miscue in this series since the fourth quarter in 2015. Iowa forced three third-quarter turnovers alone and harassed Iowa State’s Brock Purdy into one of the worst games of his stellar career; Purdy was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter after going 13-for-27 for 138 yards with three picks.

No dumb mistakes: Iowa State let that 69-yard punt scoot past its return man; Iowa didn’t. The Hawkeyes weren’t exactly immune to errors (Spencer Petras needed to throw a few more incompletions and take fewer bad sacks), but they didn’t commit their first penalty until 11:25 remained in the game — and that was because a special-teamer (Kyler Fisher) continued to play after his helmet was jarred loose.

"Opportunistic football against a tough opponent … in a tough environment," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Everything out there was fought for.

"Just a full team performance."

Officially, Iowa finished with 173 yards and averaged just 2.9 yards per play. Running back Tyler Goodson had to grind out 55 hard-earned yards on 21 carries. Counting sacks, Iowa averaged 1.7 yards per official rushing attempt. Yet ... it never trailed after taking a 7-3 lead with 8:13 left in the second quarter.

"We're nowhere near reaching our full potential by any means on either side of the ball," said Petras, who finished 11 of 21 for 106 yards. "As good as it feels to be 2-0, it doesn't mean anything.

"For now, we're excited and happy with the work we've done."

Iowa has now won six straight games against the Cyclones, and by the time the teams play Sept. 10, 2022, in Iowa City, it will have been seven years and 362 days since the last Iowa State win in this series. 

That's also eight straight wins overall for the Hawkeyes, against seven Big Ten opponents plus Iowa State. And in the last three outings, they've held Wisconsin to 7 points, then-No. 17 Indiana to 6 and the 10th-ranked Cyclones to 17. It was another defensive gem from Phil Parker.

Jestin Jacobs announced his arrival on the national stage.

Jacobs famously picked Iowa over the home-state Ohio State Buckeyes in a key recruiting win for the Hawkeyes back in December of 2018. For two-plus years, Jacobs has waited his turn to make an impact in Iowa City.

Turns out, his first big game came in Ames. And turns out, his Hawkeyes will be ranked ahead of the Buckeyes — which lost at home to Oregon on Saturday — very soon.

Jacobs played a minimal role in last week’s win against Indiana, as the Hawkeyes were predominantly in a 4-2-5 defensive package (all but three snaps). Saturday, with Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar an All-American weapon, Iowa was in heavy 4-3 personnel — which puts Jacobs on the field at outside linebacker with inside backers Seth Benson and Jack Campbell.

Jacobs triggered the biggest play of the game Saturday, when he jarred the football loose from Breece Hall, and Campbell scooped the loose ball and trotted into the end zone from 6 yards out to give Iowa a 21-10 lead with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter.

“I got my arms around him," Jacobs said of Hall. "Next thing I know, I look up, and Jack is scooping and scoring.”

Earlier in the game, Jacobs made a big-time pass breakup of a pass to Kolar to force an Iowa State punt. Kolar was limited to just four catches for 34 yards. That was a sophomore essentially playing his first big action against a national star. And he was up to the challenge and will no doubt be a continued key piece to this defense moving forward.

“The coaches told me it was going to be a challenge. I knew the tight ends were great athlete," Jacobs said. "My coach, Seth Wallace, did a good job of preaching that to me all week."

Matt Hankins pulls in the first of his two interceptions Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. This one changed the momentum and turned a 3-0 Iowa deficit into a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.

Matt Hankins missed the Cy-Hawk game in 2019. He showed up in a big way in 2021.

Hankins is one of the few "super seniors" on this Iowa team. Even though he had started games in each of his first four years at Iowa, the cornerback from Texas wanted to come back for a fifth season and leave his Hawkeye mark while preparing for the NFL.

Another benefit of returning was playing in his first Cy-Hawk game since 2018. Hankins was out with a hamstring injury here two years ago, which is why D.J. Johnson got the start that day. Saturday, Hankins (in his 29th career start) created the game’s first turnover when he intercepted Purdy with a fantastic individual effort on a second-quarter deep shot. Hankins pulled in the pass intended for 6-foot-3 Xavier Hutchinson.

Early in the third quarter, Hankins made another one-on-one breakup of a deep shot from Purdy to Joe Scates near the end zone. Then on Iowa State’s final play of the third quarter, Hankins stepped in front of a tipped pass to collect his second interception of the day and returned the theft 41 yards to Iowa State’s 22-yard line.

Those were Hankins’ fourth and fifth career interceptions, and while that doesn’t seem like a lot over five years, it’s probably because quarterbacks rarely throw his way. Purdy found out the hard way why that’s the case.

"It was huge, my last year, being able to play in the Cy-Hawk game," Hankins said. "Truthfully, I feel like I could've done better. That long (49-yarder to Darren Wilson) at the end of the (first) half, that was my zone."

Hankins’ first pick was a momentum-changer. It set up Iowa’s first touchdown, a 49-yard drive over eight plays that was capped by Tyler Goodson’s 4-yard run for a 7-3 lead.

Credit Tory Taylor, Iowa’s star punter, for pinning Iowa State back before that deep shot. Taylor’s first three punts of the day were downed at the 8-, 6- and 10-yard lines. For the game, Taylor averaged 51.1 yards on eight punts, with five inside the 20 and only one touchback.

"I could've had eight inside the 20 and no touchbacks," Taylor quipped after his stellar game.

Some good variety woke up Iowa’s offense in the second quarter.

Iowa’s first-quarter stats were abysmal: 11 plays, 14 yards. What made the frustration worse was that the Hawkeyes’ only first down came on a defensive-holding penalty, and they still couldn’t score points on a drive that started at Iowa State’s 40.

There was a clear adjustment made in the second quarter to peck away with Goodson on short passes over the middle, and that opened up things later for completions to walk-on Jackson Ritter (for 9 yards), backup freshman tight end Luke Lachey (for 17), Sam LaPorta (for 21 on third-and-15 from Iowa’s own 24) and to Jones (a beautiful 26-yard touchdown grab with 1:01 left in the first half).

And welcome back, Ivory Kelly-Martin. The running back has had a tough two years (four games and a redshirt in 2019, then a torn ACL to end the 2020 season) but gave Iowa some nice juice with four first-half runs for 21 yards.

It was an unlikely mix of players that helped the Hawkeyes score 14 second-quarter points. It really was Iowa's only good quarter of offense, but it unfolded at a good time.

“It took us a little bit to get our feet underneath us," Petras said. "It starts with running the football.”

Take a moment to appreciate Iowa’s trophy-game record since the start of the 2015 season.

After a 2014 season in which the Hawkeyes went 0-for-4 in rivalry trophy games — including a jarring, 20-17 home loss to Iowa State — there has been a change in mentality in the program. Yes, every game is important. But there has been a renewed emphasis on rivalry contests vs. Iowa State (Cy-Hawk), Wisconsin (Heartland), Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale) and Nebraska (Heroes).

With Saturday’s triumph at Jack Trice Stadium — the Hawkeyes’ sixth straight in the series that begin here with a 31-17 Iowa escape in 2015 — Iowa has now won 20 of its past 24 trophy games. That’s 6-0 vs. Iowa State, 6-0 vs. Minnesota, 6-0 vs. Nebraska and 2-4 vs. Wisconsin.

Maybe just as impressive, Iowa has now won five straight inside Jack Trice (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021).

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.